The City of San Antonio’s proposed budget for next year includes a $5.5 million boost to its emergency housing assistance program, which provides rent and mortgage payments to lower-income residents. Now, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) has allocated $145,000 of her district’s “carryover” budget saved over the years to the program to specifically help residents in District 3, which includes the City’s Southwest Side.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who suggested such use of districts’ funds in April, has committed $50,000 to the fund.

As the coronavirus pandemic ravages the local economy, more than 150,000 area residents have lost their jobs and many can’t make rent or house payments as a result.

“I saw a need, and wanted to take action to assist families dealing with financial burdens that has risen as a result of the public health and economic crisis,” Viagran stated in a news release sent Tuesday. “With no Federal rent protections in place, it is unclear whether Congress will offer future aid, so we as a city have stepped up to continue to provide emergency housing assistance.”

She estimates her contribution will help about 50 residents in District 3.

Between boosts from the City’s fiscal year 2020 budget and federal coronavirus relief funding, the City’s $1 million pre-pandemic “risk mitigation” fund saw an increase of $50.3 million in the spring and summer months.

A federal evictions moratorium initiated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expired on July 24, when properties that received federally backed mortgages could start the eviction process. That essentially gives those tenants in these properties at least until Aug. 23 to vacate. Nearly half of the approximately 260,000 rental units in San Antonio were protected under this eviction moratorium.

Bexar County’s eviction hearing schedule was significantly backlogged after justices of the peace resumed operations in June but began scaling back weeks later as coronavirus cases began to spike. Now, courts in all four precincts are hearing cases – at least virtually – and housing rights advocates are bracing for a wave of evictions.

The proposed $5.5 million boost in emergency housing assistance for fiscal year 2021 is a good start, Treviño said during a Council budget meeting Wednesday, but “I think we need at least $10 million.”

As of Tuesday, $41.2 million – more than 80 percent – of the emergency housing assistance program has been committed. The City expects the federal government to provide more relief funding, but that money comes with eligibility restrictions, Treviño noted. For instance, undocumented immigrants cannot access that support.

“When we only depend on federal dollars, we can’t help everybody,” he said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg directed staff to keep Council updated on the balance of the emergency fund – both local and federal dollars – to make sure it doesn’t run out.

“I don’t think anyone really knows what that [total amount] is, but we know what the outcome should be,” Nirenberg said. “And that is COVID-affected residents don’t get evicted or foreclosed upon.”

The size of each district’s carryover fund depends on how much that Council member has saved over the course of their tenure. Like Treviño, Viagran has encouraged her colleagues to consider contributing to the fund.

Treviño has committed another $50,000 towards the city’s right-to-counsel program to provide legal assistance to those facing eviction.

Residents can call 210-207-5779 or visit the city’s website for more information about housing assistance.

Council will review the 2021 budget proposal in depth over the next few weeks and vote on a final budget Sept. 17. 

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org